Part 9: Icebergs

In the book The Resilience Factor, the authors discuss what they call icebergs.  Similar to a bias, the icebergs represent our underlying and deeply held beliefs about how the world works and about how we should function within it.

We have these ideas or codes of behavior regarding how we should behave and how others should behave, this notion about how things ought to be according to our opinions, perceptions, and experiences.

Often times these icebergs form throughout our lives and they are a collection of our own experiences as well as the opinions and experiences of those closest to us, such as friends and family.  The icebergs are also shaped by ideas, beliefs structures, rules, and teachings from sources such as religion, politics, and even our cultural heritage.

These icebergs carve away at how we interact with other people, determining who we spend time with, they carve out our opinions of people who are different from ourselves, and even affect how we treat the opposite gender.

We may have these ideas of how a man or woman should behave, notions of roles they should fulfill in society, and often times these icebergs can hinder our marriages, work environment, and our other professional and personal relationships.  Sometimes they can even destroy them, seemingly beyond repair.

Imagine a vessel sailing through the arctic, our bias notions and beliefs are the icebergs scattered all around, the more convinced we are that our opinions and beliefs are of others, the larger and more solid these icebergs become.

Navigating through a waterway of these icebergs becomes difficult and slow going, overwhelming us, depleting our motivation, breaking our willpower to push on with our expedition, and even causing damage to our vessel.  If struck hard enough, our vessel could be destroyed and sink.

Even worse, we may not be fully aware of how deep our bias perceptions go, the tiny iceberg we see just ahead of us may in fact be ten times as large beneath the surface where we are not able to see.

So what do we do?  How can we safely navigate through these icebergs without damaging our vessel?  How do we find the motivation to move forward?

Here’s something else we need to consider, some icebergs that we have are actually useful.  The belief that integrity is a quality everyone should strive to practice is an iceberg we don’t want to destroy.  So, navigating through is going to take more than just plowing full speed ahead.  We need to have awareness of our surroundings.

When it comes to navigating through life we all have reasons for our journey.  This is true for the workplace as well.  Why you are here and what motivates you is a personal matter.  Losing motivation takes the wind out of your sails and results in you going nowhere.  This completely removes your need to worry about the icebergs forming all around you.

We’ve already covered that motivation is a feeling, an emotion that like all others will come and go, just like the wind that presses against the sails of a ship.

When our emotions are strong and fierce they can have outcomes we don’t want, even tearing our sails and impairing our movement when calmer winds return.

Not enough wind and we have no ability to go anywhere.  The only option we have left is to row.  When we are not motivated to sail forward on our journey, we must take the oars of the boat in hand and do the back straining hard work of rowing.

Rowing, like any laborious work, takes some getting used to.  It takes practice, repetition, and must come to be a habit so that we can move forward even when we don’t feel like it.

Kids don’t like brushing their teeth because it’s not fun or enjoyable, so it often becomes a battle to get them to do it.  You work at teaching and training them the importance of doing it every day and the proper method because you know there are consequences if they don’t, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

So, even if they lack the motivation to do it, practicing and repetition creates a habitual behavior.  They develop a habit of brushing in the morning and before bed, without having any motivation to do so, all the while reaping the benefits of this routine.

When navigating our way through the icebergs of our perceptions, we must utilize both the wind of motivation and the oars of our forced habits.

An awareness of how we think and feel will give us the ability to spot our icebergs and be able to either break through them or avoid them, leaving them behind us as we move on in life.  At times that’s exactly what we need to do, leave them behind us.  Tossing a rope around the icebergs and trying to haul them with us is not going to help us get to our destination, only hold us back and require an exhaustive amount of effort.

When evaluating our icebergs, the book authors recommend the following questions:

  • What does this mean to me?
  • What is the most upsetting part of this for me?
  • What is the worst part of this for me?
  • What does this say about me?
  • What’s so bad about this?

So let’s look at an example for clarity:

Jason and his wife Amanda have gotten into bed for the night, when she turns to him and says, “I’ve noticed you’ve been stopping at the bar a lot after work, before you come home.  I’m concerned about you’re drinking.”

In response, Jason has an angry outburst and accuses her of trying to control him and states that he’s a grown man and can do what he wants.

Jason is surprised by his own sudden anger.  He didn’t mean to be angry or verbally attack Amanda, but for some reason he reacted in a way that in retrospect he knew he shouldn’t have.

Using the model outlined in the book, The Resilience Factor, Jason can evaluate what led him to slam head first into his iceberg, which turned out to be far stronger and deeper than he had realized.

  1. What does Amanda’s concern mean to Jason?
    • Jason claims he is a grown man and can make his own decisions.
  2. What is the most upsetting part of Amanda’s concern for Jason?
    • Jason feels like Amanda doesn’t trust him with drinking, as though he can’t control himself.
  3. What is the worst part of this for Jason?
    • Jason feels as though Amanda thinks he’s becoming an alcoholic.
  4. What about this caused Jason to react so strongly?
    • Jason’s father was an abusive alcoholic and he feels as though Amanda has now put him in that category. The last thing he ever wanted was to be just like his father.

 

So how was this a bias opinion or an iceberg?  Jason made an irrational assumption about the intention of Amanda’s concern and used a past experience with his father as his point of perspective for her concern.

Had Jason not jumped to the conclusion that Amanda was accusing him of being an alcoholic, he could have asked her why she was feeling concerned about his recent pattern of bar visits after work.

Just like motivation, defensiveness is an emotion.  Instead of becoming consumed with feeling defensive, he could have chosen to be consumed by curiosity and chosen to feel motivated by her concern for his wellbeing.  And it would also seem that Jason has some unaddressed and lasting trauma from living with his father.

Awareness of oneself and one’s icebergs can do a lot for those wanting smooth sailing through life.

Motivation can help us choose our attitudes and decisions in life, but making self-awareness a habit can also carry us through those times when our motivation to watch what we say and do has become lackluster.